I often hear in the media today that America has never been an truly Christian nation, and that those who presume so are deceived. You decide.
OUR AMERICAN ROOTS: Many have recently argued that our beginnings were not essentially Christian. I suppose that depends on your definition of Christian, but the central focus, and the source of strength, wisdom, and consolation in the early American settlements was the God of the Bible. Yes, there were different ‘denominations,’ different perspectives of how this God worked, and if he did or didn’t interfere in the everyday lives of individuals, but nevertheless, God was central to the early literature, the poetry, and architecture i.e. the location of the church was central even as God was central to their lives. “No group has played a more pivotal role in shaping American values than the New England Puritans. The seventeenth-century Puritans contributed to our country’s sense of mission, its work ethic, and its moral sensibility.”
To understand the Puritans (of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) or the Pilgrims (of Plymouth), it is necessary to have a bit of an understanding of English history. In the 1450’s, the first printing press was built, the first published work from that press was the Gutenberg Bible Until this time, the only people who had access to the Holy Scriptures were the priests. With the invention of the printing press, it became conceivable that even the common man could obtain a copy of the Bible if translated into common English. William Tyndale saw to that and was beheaded for his efforts. As more and more individuals gained access to a Bible, these same individuals developed their own understanding of the words, the message contained therein.
The Puritans were people who walked through life with a very personal faith. Engendering this faith to their children was a very serious matter to them. Because of their Biblical Christianity they had suffered greatly. They and their Pilgrim friends had been grievously treated by the established Church and the English Crown the hiearchical dignitaries were beholden to. Matters of conscience were very important to them. Nevertheless the Puritans, for the most part, were a bright and cheerful company. They were a people who enjoyed life and took on its challenges with gusto. To the Puritans life was a grand adventure with the lives of a whole company of people at stake. If they were not diligent before God and before their fellow man then there would be dire consequences. It could be a case of “Paradise Lost”. The Puritan Milton was active in the English Civil War as was John Bunyan writer of the classic Biblical Christian allegory, “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Indeed “Paradise Lost” was the title of the Milton’s epic poem.
The history and literature of that period reflects the beliefs and daily lifestyle that centered on a relationship with our benevolent Almighty God. We don’t hear much about this today, even in historical or literary studies because it just isn’t politically correct – no room for secular humanism! But the truth is written in the lines of Anne Bradstreet (1612 – 1672), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882), Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), Washington Irving (1783 – 1859), Nathanial Hawthorne (1804 – 1864), Emily Dickenson (1830 – 1886), James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851), and so many more who captured the time, the life, the struggles, and the victories of these early Americans.
Governor William Bradford (1590 – 1621) Bradford was selected as Governor by the survivors of the Mayflower crossing, the first settlers to endure both the crossing and the settling of the New England coast of Plymouth. Some were Pilgrims (or Separatists) wanted to break away from the Chruch of England. The others were called Puritans because they wanted to establish a “pure church that would offer a model for the churches in England.” They both wanted to be FREE to worship as they saw fit. They wanted Freedom of religion!
William Bradford was one of the first Americans to be published in the New land. His Of Plymouth Plantation was an impressive journal he kept detailing the crossing itself and the initial workings of the new colony, the new village of Plymouth and the government they established. Here is a brief excerpt:
Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element. And no marvel if they were thus joyful, seeing wise Seneca was so affected with sailing a few miles on the coast of his own Italy, as he affirmed, that he had rather remain twenty years on his way by land than pass by sea to any place in a short time, so tedious and dreadful was the same unto him.
The brave and devout Puritans of the Mayflower crossing drew up a compact that became the foreshadow of our unique government. “The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the colonists, later together known to history as the Pilgrims, who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. Almost half of the colonists were part of a separatist group seeking the freedom to practice Christianity according to their own determination and not the will of the English Church. It was signed on November 11, 1620 by 41 of the ship’s one hundred and two passengers, in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod.
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
The primary import of this document was the establishment of self-rule in the colony. In that way, the Mayflower Compact is a foreshadowing of what was to come, of the cry for individual freedom in the New Land – America. The subsequent documents of Independence and self-rule assumed the morality and spirituality of the people. While degrees of devotion differ, and methods of “worhip” differ, still they agreed in the inherent sovereignty of Almighty God. This is our history. These are our roots. They distinguished between Church rule and civil rule – not separating one FROM the other but distinguishing their separate roles in the lives of the people. This is America! A land, under God, sought and found for a unique and special purpose – where individuals could worship God as they saw fit. In today’s language, that means the elimination of Christianity while other religions are welcomed and extolled! Yet morality in the USA has never been at a lower standard. Five minutes of TV news will confirm that!
Can we re-discover our ROOTS???
William Tyndale – translator of the Bible to English so every believer could read the holy Word for himself!